the center of the world (molly parker)

i met luminous canadian actress molly parker, who plays a main character in deadwood and may be known to some of you through that show, in marion bridge, an equally luminous, if painful, 2003 canadian drama of family, abuse, and endurance. since i found molly parker stunning — she is, yes, beautiful, but she’s also an actress who can convey a whole depth of feelings with just the way she looks — i went looking for other films of hers and saw last night wayne wang’s 2001 leaving-las-vegas-remake(of sorts) the center of the world, based on a story by wang, miranda july, paul auster, and siri hustvedt.

this is a film designed for those who like motels (or hotels, which in america are much the same thing). i do. simon doesn’t. i attribute to this fact and this fact only that after 20 minutes he was so bored with this film that he left me to watch it alone.*

richard, played by peter sarsgaard, is a scruffy young techie who has made millions with a dot-com outfit and has no one to spend them with. florence (parker) is a drummer by day and a stripper by night. richard meets florence in her nighttime persona, falls for her, and proposes that they spend three days in vegas. florence finds the idea ludicrous, so richard, who is at heart a big kid with a lot of cash, offers her 10 thou for her company. florence sets her limits: no mouth kissing, no fucking, separate rooms.

at first richard tries to turn their stay into a holiday, but the results are rather desultory, at least for florence and for us, because richard seems as happy as a child at disneyland, oblivious to the sordidness of the situation, enthusiastic about everything, in love like a doe-eyed teenager. during a roller coaster ride richard laughs merrily while florence looks exactly as bored as you know she’s going to be when she’ll perform at night. at 10 pm she makes herself up and does her stripper routine, which is meant to last exactly till 2 am. the claustrophobic setting of the hotel room dominate the film after the initial roller coaster ride. the scenes in vegas are intercut with black-and-white scenes from richard and florence’s earlier meetings at the nightclub. florence keeps her side of the deal and performs very sexily at the appointed time, while sleeping or looking bored and wary during her off hours. richard is consistently happy, uncritical, and able to sleep like a child. there’s a bit of suspense from halfway on about whether florence will fall for this silly boy and his naive charm, or whether she’ll retain her jadedness and boredom.

the sexual and psychological tension between richard and florence kept me entranced. the film is unrated, but if it were rated it would surely get an x. there’s some explicit female nudity and a lot of explicit sex, though little to no male nudity. the center of the world is florence’s vagina, with its allure and prohibitions. there is nothing, though, that this vagina can do to make these two people connect. unlike the characters of leaving las vegas, richard and florence are very much regular kids. they have their passions and then they have their jobs, which neither of them particularly enjoys. wang shows the ways in which sex coats relationships with an aura of intimacy that is very hard to resist. it smears intimacy all over the surface of the body, makes you smell it and taste it, and you think you are there, that you’ve got it, that there is something, love, between you and the other person. but all you have is a stuffy hotel room with acrylic spreads, expensive minibar drinks, and windows that do not let in fresh air.

films explore the nature of intimacy, love, and closeness all the time, but, maybe because i like hotel rooms and the promises they always raise and always disappoint in me, this spoke to me (another film that also takes place in a hotel room and deals with these same issues is the very good conversations with other women). with a lesser cast the center of the world would be sleazy, but parker and sarsgaard are such good actors, they convey beautifully that whole tangled mess that are the frustrations of desire, the complexities of human connection, and the longings of the heart.

* i have often wondered: are simon and i the only group of two, one of whose members is a contributor to this blog, who consistently, even inescapably, watch movies together? it is extremely rare that we watch movies separately. it is, in fact, so rare that when one or the other is not at home, the at-home one refrains from watching anything. yet, from some of your posts, i detect that this is very much not the case for you. i wonder why.

12 thoughts on “the center of the world (molly parker)”

  1. Parker is also in the show “Twitch City”–and gets to smile a lot, and have some fun, and is equally luminous. I’d heard some rough things about Center, but it was part of a general Wayne-Wang-is-a-sexist-bastard rant from a friend, and your read makes it seem pretty intriguing.

    Kris and I often watch together and often watch separately. I stay up later than she does, and I have a far greater interest in movies generally, and I like some shit she won’t come near (ranging from horror to action to comedy to … well, all over the map). And I have far less patience for some of her general pleasures (pretty much anything with Sandra Bullock or set in generic Austenland), so often she’ll watch those and I’ll creep upstairs to read. Maybe 40-60 together-apart watching? Again, I think the primary reason is sleep…

  2. what i really wonder, john, i why you cannot avoid being such a silly boy. is it genetic? is the result of upbringing? did USC graduate school and, in particular, the proximity of arnab and frisoli ruin you? what is it, john? hey? hey?

  3. Nicola and I rarely watch together (though I will share that she’s always been drawn to the listless banality of American motel rooms). It’s kind of a bummer. She goes to bed much earlier than I do and much of our evening time is spent with our daughter. We used to share a lot more couch time once upon a time before the arrival of our little zygote. anyway. We did surprise ourselves the other day by conjuring up how many films we actually have seen together this past year.

    Speaking of hotel rooms . . . have you seen Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hard Eight? Pretty good stuff.

    Oh yeah . . . lovely piece of writing, Gio.

  4. I watched the first disc of Twitch City this past week, and liked it well enough. Molly Parker however was quite excellent, the best thing in it, and I intended to look up other things to see if she’d continued to act or moved back to Halifax, or wherever it is Canadians go when the bright lights of Toronto get to be too much for them.

    I had no idea she was in Deadwood, I’ve never seen a second of it. But it’s good to know she did a lot more after Twitch City and bigger things as well.

    “based on a story by wang, miranda july, paul auster, and siri hustvedt.” That’s a hell of a collaboration. Will try to see this soon.

    I used to really like motel rooms. Now I can’t help thinking they’re filthy, and it’s ruined all the fun.

  5. there must have been a filth-in-motel-rooms movement that touched my consciousness enough to make me squeamish about the thing when i wasn’t, even though i never expected those bedspreads to be pristine instead of soaked in human waste. apparently it affected you too, mark. what a shame. the last time i was in a motel room i couldn’t even let myself walk barefoot. fuck the germ conscious!

    i recommend marion bridge as well as center. marion is a really fine example of canadian quirk, beautifully acted and filled to the brim with those Small Interpersonal Tensions that are the hallmark of canadian quirk and tend to be acted silently rather than talked endlessly about (as yakky americans tend to do). both the direction and the cinematography are excellent. simon loved it too and, by golly, he is a man!

  6. simon is a man? i find the lack of women in your marriage to be depressing, gio.

    i didn’t actually like molly parker at all in deadwood. or rather her character annoyed me. then again, almost every character on that show annoyed me.

  7. i just watched secretary for the first time, and since it reminded me a little of this movie i thought i’d write a few words about it here. it’s a fine movie. it drops the ball in the last third, but it is a fine movie. i love the way it investigates and connects yearning, mental illness (cutting, repression, perversion), love, and loneliness. and i love the symbols it uses to represents the terrible dangers of intimacy — fastidious clothing, typewriters, food, gardening, violence, the body. i am sorry james spader’s character’s eventual acceptance of love doesn’t get the same subtle treatment gyllenhaal’s character gets. maybe predictably, since it’s based on a story by mary gaitskill, this film is much more attentive to the complexities of the interplay between madness, desire, and love in its female character than its male one. both spader and gyllenhaal, though, are great — and spader is really terrific at portraying a self-denying, longing brand of despair. i expected a lot of kinky stuff but the film is in fact rather tame. i was surprised, though, but the huge amount of tenderness gyllenhaal was able to infuse into the S&M scenes. very moving.

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